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Government should hang its head in shame as astronomical sums squandered

18 May, 2005

Supporting the Labour Party Private Members Motion on cost overruns of major infrastructural projects, in the Dáil this evening, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said, the real disgrace around the issue was that the "astronomical" sums squandered "could and should have been spent on providing the services so desperately needed by the most vulnerable in our society including disabled people, children with special needs and the elderly." Deputy Ó Caoláin accused developers of exploiting publicly funded projects and said it was Government policies and practices that facilitated it. The Government he said, "should hang their heads in shame."

Full text of contribution to Labour Party Private Members Business motion on Cost over-runs

The Sinn Féin Deputies fully support this motion.

The massive profiteering by developers who exploit publicly funded projects is something I have raised repeatedly as my party's spokesperson on finance. I have raised it here in the Dáil chamber and in the Finance and Public Service Committee.

Today at Taoiseach's Questions we heard once again the astronomical cost to the State of sitting tribunals -- some €200 million to date, and the metre is still running. We also heard the Taoiseach outline the deals done between the Government and the various tribunals in an effort to cut down on the legal costs. That was something I and other Deputies repeatedly raised. Finally the Government took action, but how much of that €200 million would have been saved if the Government had listened to Deputies here and acted much earlier to modify the massive fees being paid to tribunal lawyers?

Astronomical as the costs of the tribunals are they pale beside the monumental cost over-runs identified in this motion. And in many ways what has been happening under the so-called Celtic Tiger far exceeds the abuses that the planning and payments-to-politicians tribunals are investigating. The scandal is compounded by the fact that most of this is perfectly legal and has been facilitated by the policies and practices of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government.

The Government's response, both in the amendment and in the contributions in the chamber, has been totally disingenuous. They are trying to paint the supporters of the motion in the wrong by claiming that we oppose development and oppose new and improved infrastructure. But nobody is arguing that our transport infrastructure and every other aspect of infrastructure should not be developed. On the contrary, we want to see this being done in a timely, efficient, equitable and properly planned manner. The issue here is about the cost and the mismanagement of projects.

The last paragraph of the Minister's amendment talks about his plans to introduce targeted reforms to the procurement of public construction contracts and reform and modernisation of the system for employing construction-related consultants. But, like the reform of tribunal lawyers fees, it is coming very late in the day and it is coming when the profiteers have made their money.

Perhaps the most shocking figure in the Prime Time programme was the estimation for the average cost over-run for National Roads Authority projects at 86%. An international expert in this field stated that globally the average over-run on such projects would be 20%. In this country the developers and consultants have been making profits undreamed of anywhere else in Europe and all at the taxpayers' expense. They have been facilitated by the neglect of this Government. And they have been facilitated by the creation of the biggest quango in this country -- the National Roads Authority. The NRA is funded by monies voted by this Dáil yet no Minister is accountable to the Dáil for the decisions of that body. It is about to drive a motorway through the historic Tara-Skryne Valley, a heartland of our national heritage, and no Minister will stand accountable for that decision in this Oireachtas.

The same Pontius Pilate exercise has been carried out in our health services. The Health Service Executive is the new quango designed to screen the Minister for Health and Children from her responsibility to this Dáil.

On a weekly basis scores of questions which we raise on behalf of our constituents are being kicked to touch and sent to the Health Service Executive to respond to in its own time and in its own way and as it sees fit. Every Deputy here could wallpaper their office with the stock two-sentence replies referring everything to the HSE.

If there was proper scrutiny and accountability in the Oireachtas many of the scandals referred to in this motion would not have happened. Massive sums of public money were lost due to private profiteering from public projects. The Government has also wasted public money directly on pet projects like Punchestown, on bungled efforts such as e-voting, and on sweetheart deals such concluded with the religious orders.

The real disgrace is that those squandered sums could and should have been spent on providing the services so desperately needed by the most vulnerable in our society including disabled people, children with special needs and the elderly. Last week before I was ejected from this chamber, the Taoiseach failed to answer my challenge on the Disability Bill. I pointed out that he was wrong to say that no legislation had ring-fenced funding for any sector. The Taoiseach was wrong. It was done for the Horse and Greyhound industry where revenue raised in that sector is guaranteed by law to be ploughed back into it by the Government. But in the economy of greed fostered by this Government what can be done for the betting industry cannot be done for the disabled men, women and children of Ireland. They should hang their heads in shame."

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